Come in number 26, your time is up.

Before I even start writing this afternoon can I stress that I am not identifying a scapegoat and assassinating him in this blog. I have been a firm believer that number 26, aka Tom Champion has an awful lot to offer Lincoln City.

I’ve mentioned before, I saw him play for Cambridge and I know he was rated highly there. Whenever I saw him he was a colossus in their midfield, tackling with the ferocity of a starving lion and dominating the area in front of the back four. He was the type of player I hadn’t seen at Sincil Bank in many years and I was delighted to see him sign for City.

The harsh fact is that Lincoln City and Tom Champion are not proving to be a good fit. Depending on your viewpoint Danny Cowley may have admitted signing him was a mistake, although I interpreted his comments a couple of weeks ago as dropping Lee Beevers as the mistake. Whichever it was it gave Tom a short spell on the side lines as we went into a winnable game against Braintree and a toughie at Wrexham. Two wins took the pressure off.

With Bradley Wood carrying an injury into yesterdays game the obvious decision would have been for Champion to replace him in the middle of the park. I understood he signed to bolster the squad and give us options when injuries occurred. Perhaps the manager realised that he was putting his loan man in the firing line again, perhaps he had lost a little belief in the player, ultimately a 70% fit Wood was preferred. When Arnold got injured the obvious choice would have been Hawkridge but with Bradley visibly struggling he chose to bring Champion on as an additional midfield player. Champion was given the protection as much as anyone, as he had both Wood and Woodyard around him. He just had to get through 33 minutes unscathed to begin to build his confidence back up. He didn’t get through eight.

When he gave the ball away I was listening intently to Michael Hortin. As the BBC commentator Hortin has to try and be objective and fair, but the disdain in his voice was clear, something akin to ‘Urgh, Champion gives the ball away again’. Moments later Blair Turgott put the ball in the back of the net and Hortin professionally changed tact and bemoaned Champion’s luck, However his live commentary told a story in itself.

Two players who had a tough day yesterday

Do I think Bromley would have scored at some point whether Tom Champion had lost the ball or not? Maybe. Sean Raggett almost cost us all three points, and had it not been for Paul Farman we wouldn’t have brought anything home. Would Raggett have become a pariah had we lost the game? Probably not. He’s not the nominated scapegoat, Champion is.

I read plenty of statements yesterday about where we might be in the league had Tom Champion not signed. Anyone who thinks we would be anywhere other than third is just speculating. We are in this position as a team, and therefore irrespective of Tom Champion it is where we deserve to be. Tom wasn’t on the pitch when Barrow got their winner, and when he lost the ball yesterday there were ten other players that could have intervened in some way before the ball hit the back of the net.

Unfortunately I think it is one mistake too far, one so-called negative result too many that people can lay at his feet. I’m afraid that nothing short of a hat-trick in his next outing could convince most fans he has anything to offer. He started badly and hasn’t got any better, and one unfortunate touch yesterday (in my opinion) became the epitaph to his Lincoln City career. .

Tom Champion is a good player, but once a player loses the support of 80% of the fans there isn’t really anywhere for him to go. The manager obviously has lost a bit of confidence in him, and as I understand it one or two of his team mates feel the same way. He trains once or twice a week maximum and therefore misses out on a lot of the work that goes in Monday to Friday. If you’re Matt Rhead with a real and tangible effect being seen every week, a day or two away from the training ground isn’t an issue. If you’re a player under pressure keeping five-days-a-week men on the bench then you need performances and quick. Sadly it seems Tom Champion has a Midas touch when wearing a Lincoln shirt, but instead of everything turning to gold, it turns to manure.

All the time this is happening we have (and I’ll use punctuation here to show a little sarcasm) ‘club captain’ Alan Power sat twiddling his short strings on the bench. He’s a veteran with over 200 appearances for City, a player who has been the scapegoat time and time again and who has always bounced back. He’s a player who should never have his ability called into question and certainly has never had his commitment criticised. We’ve seen Alan Power run himself into the ground for the red and white, and for him to watch Tom Champion misplacing pass after pass must be galling. At least if anyone is misplacing a pass let it be one of our own, one who trains five days a week. At least let our scapegoat be a player who goes home and turns it over and over in his mind. Alan Power isn’t playing for his Barnet career and he wouldn’t be playing to get in the shop window. Alan Power would be playing for his Imps career.

Leading by example, a hard thing to do from the bench (photo by Graham Burrell)

I’m afraid many more outings for Tom Champion could cost the player as much as the club. His confidence must be knocked after his mistake, and I’m certain it was fairly low before yesterday anyway. He needs a productive spell somewhere to force his way into Barnet’s team or to earn himself a contract elsewhere, and every time he steps foot on the pitch now he must feel the pressure. I haven’t heard him booed  yet, but I’d wager if he were to come on against Guiseley there might be the odd bonehead who vents his anger. It’s best for player and club if we part ways.

Don’t forget though this is a player who wasn’t really given a chance from game one. It was tough coming into a winning side and I don’t think anyone truly believes he should have started the Solihull game, even Danny Cowley with hindsight. From there on he’s been a player under pressure, and with each game he looks like that pressure is building more and more. Tom Champion isn’t a bad player, but for my money his Lincoln City time is at an end.

Just as a post script I’d like to add that yesterday was by no means a bad result. Bromley are a team who won’t be in the bottom four come May, and we won’t be the only play-off hopefuls who come away with a draw. They are a team you should hope to beat at home if you’re serious about a promotion challenge, just as Boreham Wood are. However a quick look at the table shows Boreham Wood have  lost less games than us this season, and yet anything less than a win a week on Tuesday would be seen as a poor result. Four points from Wrexham and Bromley away? I’ll take that. Four points from Eastleigh and Boreham Wood at home? I’d take that too.


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